From business to politics

From farm boy to state senator and business owner, Jerry Stevenson shared his story with students in attendance at the Nye Executive Lecture Series at the Goddard School of Business and Economics on Thursday.

Though Stevenson is a Utah State University graduate, he has quite a history with Weber State University.

“I joke passionately that I went to school at USU, but I received my education at Weber State,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson was given the Distinguished Service Award at the 41st Annual WSU Salutes program in fall 2010. This recent honor came as the result of his service as a chairman of the WSU Board of Trustees and his service in advocating for the Davis campus and the engineering program that is now a part of WSU.

Stevenson’s position as Layton City mayor from January 1994 until January 2006 enabled him to play a role in the development of WSU’s Davis campus. At the time of his election in 1993, a site within Davis County was being determined for a WSU satellite campus. Stevenson proposed four sites in Layton, which makes up 25 percent of Davis County in size and population. After a long negotiation process, a large grain field area was chosen, where the satellite campus sits today.

Stevenson asked the room how many of them had attended classes at Davis. About half the room raised their hands, and when he asked who lived in Davis County, the response was about the same. The satellite campus is continuing to grow. Stevenson has been instrumental in helping get the buildings funded for the WSU Davis campus. A ribbon-cutting for a second building will be taking place next month.

“I was standing in a line at the mortuary one night, and the mayor asked me if I’d consider serving on a planning commission,” Stevenson said. He explained his start in government, but spoke more of his experience as a business owner.

Stevenson started J&J Produce from the family farm he grew up on. He talked about what it takes to start a successful business. Three key points he advised were to know the peaks and valleys in the market and how to regulate them over time, starting with a base of good credit and a good name, putting controls in place so the business doesn’t expand too fast.

“I will lose my competition in the state of Utah — about half — within the next year,” Stevenson said.

He explained these businesses have expanded too rapidly, didn’t have a plan and were depending on market conditions that have existed in the past few years to continue.

Tracy Bunner, a senior at WSU, said she enjoyed that Stevenson addressed the business aspect of his life more than the senate aspect. Stevenson explained how the benefit of being a successful business owner helped him in being a senator.

“I was expecting a political overture, and he brought in the importance of starting at ground level with the politics, but he focused on his business and how he started it and got through the tough times.”

Stevenson encouraged students who are interested in pursuing careers in government and politics to start small, even as a little league coach.

“Seek appointments from (your) community and find out what it’s really about before you decide you’re going to go out and change the world, because sometimes what you think you can do is not really what you can cause to happen.”

People who start on a recreation commission, water commission, board, arts council or other community entity, Stevenson said, will gain two necessary attributes for success in politics: name recognition and a rapport with people who are the movers and shakers of the community.

“If I don’t ever do anything in the senate, I’ve had a great time watching the engineering program at WSU go forward . . . watching good things happen in the area that you represent,” Stevenson said. “That’s what makes being a senator a lot of fun.”